Barbara Handler’s mother Ruth watched as Barbara and her friends put their baby dolls aside and began playing with adult dolls that were made of paper or cardboard. Ruth decided to make a female, three-dimensional doll for her daughter and other young girls to play with. She realized how important it was for girls to imagine what it was like to live in the world of a “grown-up.”
A Mother’s Perseverance
Ruth threw some ideas together, and named the doll “Barbie”, after a nickname she had given to her daughter. She then took the ideas to Mattel Toy Corporation, where the all-male committee immediately turned it down.
Not ready to give up, Ruth continued to show the doll at toy conventions. Toy buyers told Ruth that the doll would never sell; however, their minds were quickly changed when they saw the excitement that filled little girls’ faces. The new phenomenon known as Barbie continued to grow in popularity. Barbie only flew solo for a few years before the makers began coming out with her friends. The new friends came in different genders, ethnicities, age groups, and some of them even had fur! They also began to come out with Barbie play-sets, games, clothes, and electronics.
Some play, some collect, and some turn up their noses at how real the anatomy of the Barbie is. Many feel that the realness of the Barbie is bad for little girls’ minds and exposed them to things they shouldn’t have knowledge of. Her appearance has changed several times and although her looks have changed, there is one thing that remains, her popularity. The doll that no one gave a chance 50 years ago continues to entertain and inspire young girls all over the world.
A Little Girls’ Heaven
I’m 7 years old. Mom and I head to the local Wal-Mart to do some shopping on a Saturday afternoon. We walk up and down the aisles and she turns, not able to find me anywhere. In a frantic voice, she yells for me from a few aisles down, but I just block it out because I’m headed for the best aisle in the whole store. I could always find this aisle by the way the pink from the boxes reflected on the lights and onto the white linoleum floor. I take a sharp right and at that moment, I am in a little girls’ heaven: The Barbie aisle.
Surrounded on both walls are shelves upon shelves of Barbie dolls, accessories, and pink convertibles. By the time my mom finally finds me, she gives me the lecture I had received almost every time we went shopping, “You can’t just leave without telling me!” She goes on and on about the dangers of walking through stores alone, but I am focused on the beautiful dolls that are so neatly placed in their boxes. Once in awhile, if I was on my best behavior, I would get lucky enough to pick out a toy from the store, and there was never hesitation on what that toy would be.
On the drive home, I scurry through bags to find what I couldn’t live without at that moment. I open the box, untie the metal twist-ties around her arms, and remove the plastic that holds down her hair to the cardboard. I take out the comb, and brush her hair the whole way home, wondering how I would fit her into the Barbie world I had already created.
Most of my childhood memories include sitting in my basement and dumping out a Rubbermaid tub full of blonde-haired Barbie dolls. Being the youngest in the family of three (with two older brothers), I guess my mom just thought it would be the best way to prevent me from pestering them. I didn’t have many girls in my neighborhood, but that was okay, because I had Barbie dolls, and, of course, an overactive imagination.
I never was into playing house or playing with baby dolls, but put a Barbie in my hand, and a few cardboard boxes, I could pump out a Barbie metropolis in a matter of minutes. Of course, my brothers would think it was weird because they often thought I was talking to myself, but I would switch the voices of the Barbies as though it were some kind of soap opera.
Barbie really does have the life every girl dreams of. She has hundreds of shoes, never looks tired, and she can buy a whole formal outfit for under five dollars. Most of the time, dressing her was half the battle! I would spend hours upon hours picking out the perfect outfit. I had a very bad habit of leaving some of the tiny accessories out. If I wasn’t careful, Murphy, my childhood Shi-Tzu-Schnauzer, would have the shoes and brushes chewed up in no time. I also could tell when my dad would step on Barbie’s high-heeled shoes because I would hear a painful scream from all the way upstairs.
My brothers knew exactly how to get under my skin—stealing my oh-so precious Barbies. As boys often do, my brothers also went through a destructive phase. There would be times where my Barbie room looked like a disturbing crime scene. Heads and limbs were torn from their bodies, and Barbie’s hair had been cut off with a Crayola scissors that was still on the scene. After tears, screams, reattaching body parts, and tattling to Mom, my brothers would say their apologies, and my Barbies and I would move on, and try to cope with the loss of our friends.
No more pretending
I slowly began to replace my Barbies for computers, sports, and other activities, and, eventually I didn’t have to hold a plastic doll to wonder what it was like to be a grown-up. I will always have special childhood memories of playing with Barbies and hope that they continue to impact little girls’ imaginations the way they did mine. Once in awhile, when I go home to visit from college, I sneak away into my old play room, which now is filled with holiday decorations, my brothers’ sports trophies, scrapbooks…and a Rubbermaid tub that held not only my Barbies, but my memories of the hours of entertainment they provided for me. Someday, if I have children of my own, I hope that they have a toy that can help open their imagination and cure their boredom like Barbies did for me.
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